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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 7 Hansard (20 June) . . Page.. 2250 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

This seems to indicate that we can amend our legislation, and nothing in the agreement prevents that. However, depending on whether "notwithstanding" is a stronger term than "nothing", we may only be free to make amendments on the matters listed or on matters which have the unanimous agreement of the other ministers.

Point 13 states quite strongly that a state or territory will not submit legislation to its parliament or take action for the making of regulations which will conflict with or negate the operation of the credit legislation. Would this bill conflict with or negate the operation of the credit legislation? That must be a debatable point. Perhaps Mr Stefaniak-or Mr Humphries, the former minister, who shared the chair of the ministerial council over the last year-can clarify what we are and are not permitted to do under the agreement.

In any case, with at least a strong possibility that prior agreement will be necessary, or is at least good form, in a cooperative system, this motion prompts our government to raise the issue at the next meeting of the Ministerial Council on Consumer Affairs. I do not know how the idea of restricting unsolicited credit extensions will be received. I hope that other ministers will see the strong need for such legislation, and I hope that our minister will put the case strongly and seek prompt action.

MR QUINLAN (9.49): The opposition will be supporting the motion. We think it is important that the provisions of fair trading legislation remain uniform throughout the nation. Obviously unilateral action by any state or territory should not occur.

As Mr Stefaniak has said, New South Wales are preparing a paper for the ministerial council in July of this year. I am unable to divulge the details of that paper, as it is yet to be considered by the New South Wales cabinet. But I can say that it goes further than what is proposed in Mr Rugendyke's bill.

The main thrust of the ministerial council's consideration should be to ensure that credit providers are accountable for their actions in offering easy credit to vulnerable consumers. We are all aware of a bank's recent offer to issue credit cards to 10-year-olds and in one case a three-year-old. There is good reason to be sceptical about whether the banks, after the event, would have properly assessed the children's capacity to pay.

One other issue that should be considered by the ministerial council is a requirement for credit providers to warn consumers about the consequences of only making the minimum payment on a credit card debt. The minimum payment is a lure for consumers to incur interest charges of between 12 and 16 per cent on not just the outstanding balance but on all new purchases. This could lead to substantial charges and long-term trouble for vulnerable consumers.

Mr Speaker, we urge the government not only to seriously consider the motion put by Mr Rugendyke but to support any national approach to tighten the law in this area. We support the motion.

MR STEFANIAK (Minister for Education and Attorney-General): I seek leave to speak again.

Leave granted.

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